Desperate to stay in the playoff race, the New York Mets brought back their ace early and he delivered, pitching a three-hitter that led them over the Florida Marlins 2-0 on a rainy Saturday.
Nearly two hours later, the Mets pulled into a tie with Milwaukee for the NL wild card when the Brewers lost 7-3 to the Chicago Cubs.
With the crowd standing and chanting his name, Santana (16-7) assured the Mets will play at least one more meaningful game at Shea Stadium. The win was just the third in eight games for New York and put aside - for a day, anyway - thoughts of another huge collapse.
Now, it's up to Oliver Perez to try to help save the Mets' season Sunday. No chance of seeing Santana in that one.
If the Mets and Brewers remain even after Sunday, they would play a one-game tiebreaker Monday in New York. Milwaukee is scheduled to send ace CC Sabathia to the mound Sunday against the Cubs.
Well before the first pitch, Manuel was asked whether his postgame plans involved sticking around the clubhouse to watch his rivals on TV.
"If ..." he started, quickly amending to, "when we win, I'll just get dressed and go home."
As the Mets left their locker room, one TV was tuned to Brewers-Cubs and the other showed college football. The wild card was more easily in reach, but the Mets hadn't given up hope of catching Philadelphia and forcing a division tiebreaker at Citizens Bank Park.
No such luck for New York.
Only once before had Santana pitched on three days' rest, and that was in the 2004 AL playoffs. He needed a career-high 125 pitches in his last outing, and he threw 117 in keeping the Mets' shaky relievers in the bullpen.
The NL ERA leader improved to 9-0 in 17 starts since late June, striking out nine and walking three in his sixth career shutout.
Santana had asked Manuel to pitch this game, and everyone at Shea knew what was at stake. After last year's monumental fold, a loss here might've doomed the Mets to a similar fate.
Manuel's revamped lineup produced a run in the first inning, and that turned out to be all Santana required.
Acquired in an offseason trade with Minnesota to win big games, Santana became the first Mets pitcher to throw a shutout on three days' rest since Dwight Gooden in 1987.
Manuel would later admit that, even if he had wanted to take Santana out of the game in the ninth, he wouldn't have let him.
The Marlins left the bases loaded in the fifth and threatened again in the ninth, but Cody Ross flied out to the warning track in left with a runner on to end it. Santana received hearty congratulations on the mound, and waved his cap to the crowd as he walked off.
The win meant Perez gets his chance to pitch on three days' rest Sunday. The last time he did it, the Mets lefty tossed a real gem - six sharp innings in Game 7 of the 2006 NL championship series against St. Louis.
Now, there's a chance that Sunday's farewell-to-Shea ceremony with Willie Mays and other former Mets won't necessarily be a somber one.
Carlos Delgado, batting third for the first time this season, hit a sacrifice fly in the first. The inning included a single by David Wright, hitting cleanup for the first time this year.
Ramon Martinez, a late-season bonus for the Mets, hit an RBI double in the fourth.
Marlins rookies were also going to dress up, courtesy for the Florida veterans. As part of a prank, the young players were being made to wear brightly colored outfits festooned with oversized bananas and limes for a night out to Times Square.
It was a fruitful day for the Mets, too, thanks to Santana. And it left them looking ahead.
Perhaps Pedro Martinez said it best as he left the field, "Mana√±a!"
By far, the player of the game was Johan Santana... the Shea-vior. He hurled nine scoreless innings and only gave up three hits. Santana struck out nine along the way, lowering his ERA to 2.53.
Jose Reyes was 1-4 with a single.
Carlos Beltran was 2-4 in yesterday's game, with two singles.
Ramon Martinez was 1-3 with a single.
David Wright was 2-3 in yesterday's game, with a walk.
Wright's average jumped to .304 after the game. If he can get at least one hit in the last regular season game of the year, he solidifies another .300+ season.